Chirac and Afghanistan

Yesterday there was much talk across the blogosphere about Chirac and Bush’s public exchange of words regarding Turkey and the EU. But Chirac did something far more damaging than that. He has blocked the deployment of NATO troops to safeguard the elections in Afghanistan. (Rueters cite):

France has blocked a U.S. bid to deploy NATO's new strike force to safeguard Afghanistan's elections, stoking tension between the two allies that fell out over the Iraq war, diplomats said Tuesday.

"France, and to a lesser extent others such as Spain, are suspicious about using the NATO Response Force (NRF)," said one envoy at the alliance summit in Istanbul.

"It says the force is not ready for this kind of environment and should not be used simply as a sticking plaster for troop shortages on routine operations."

France's opposition to a proposal that could help resolve NATO's problems finding troops to make the September polls safe exasperated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pushed the idea hard at a meeting of allied defense ministers.

...

Chirac told a news conference that the NRF -- set up last year with a heavy French contingent but not due to become fully operational until October 2006 -- should only be used when there is a serious security crisis, not for Afghan-style missions.

"The NRF is not designed for this. It shouldn't be used just for any old matter," he said. He has added that an overt NATO presence in Afghanistan could in itself exacerbate security problems during the elections.

...

Diplomats said allies had not yet committed all those forces. This means they will not be in place to help with voter registration, which has been dogged by Taliban militia attacks.

...

France's excuse is

One European official said the U.S.-French tussle was more about procedure. Paris is concerned that sending the NRF to Afghanistan could set a precedent for using it as a "toolbox" whenever NATO has problems pooling forces for an operation.

"France worries ... (this) would lead to an automatism jeopardizing the principle that a political decision must be taken before NATO commits to operations such as election protection in Afghanistan," the official said.

This article highlights the fact that there really aren't very many non-US NATO troops available. A fact which ought to be remembered when engaging in debates about how important a European contribution to the War on Terrorism could be. But more importantly it highlights how little of a contribution Europe (and especially France) is willing to make when contributing involves more than diplomatic rhetoric.

The mission was to deploy troops in Afghanistan to safeguard elections. According to European rhetoric, Afghanistan is one of the most important foreign fronts in the War on Terrorism. To dismiss the safeguarding of Afghanistan's elections as "any old matter" is ridiculous. If the War on Terrorism is going to be won at all it will include changing the way that governments in the region interact with their citizens. This is not a mere procedural objection to the way the US raised the issue. This when coupled with "overt NATO presence in Afghanistan could in itself exacerbate security problems during the elections" is a challenge to the idea of many possible roles for NATO in Afghanistan.

And I repeat, this is how France wants to treat AFGHANISTAN. This is how France wants to deal with the clear case.

UPDATE:

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has much more on this topic and other European commitment problems in his June 30, 2004 entry.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at June 30, 2004 11:58 AM